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'My rent has been hiked 20 percent - what are my rights?'

Published: 07 Aug 2010 17:39 GMT+02:00
Updated: 07 Aug 2010 17:39 GMT+02:00

Ask The Local: Every week we will be answering readers' questions about Sweden. This week, John from Skåne wants to know what he can do about an unwelcome rent increase.

“I’ve got a problem with my landlord: he recently informed me that he was raising my rent by 20 percent with immediate effect. He said if I did not pay the increased rent from the start he would kick me out. What can I do?”

John, Skåne.

Sweden’s rental market is very heavily regulated. Rents for council-owned apartments are set in collective negotiations between the municipal housing companies and the Swedish Union of Tenants (Hyresgästsföreningen). Private landlords are obliged by law to set their rents roughly in line with those agreed in collective negotiations.

Susanna Skogsberg, legal adviser at the Swedish Union of Tenants, says John's chances of getting the rent cut depend on how the landlord implemented the rise:

“The first thing John needs to check is whether the rent increase was negotiated collectively, with involvement of the Swedish Union of Tenants, or whether the landlord raised it unilaterally.

“If the rent is collectively agreed, then the tenant must pay the increased amount from the start. He can then appeal the rent increase to a rent tribunal (hyresnämnden), which can force a reduction if the rent is deemed unreasonable.

“In order to challenge a collectively agreed rent, the tenant has to provide evidence that nearby apartments of a similar size and standard are cheaper. The rent tribunal looks at the rent charged for comparable apartments, using council-owned apartments as the benchmark. Challenges to collectively-agreed rents rarely succeed, but it can happen.

“If the rent is not collectively agreed – i.e. if the landlord decided to raise it himself – then the tenant can continue paying the old rent. It is then up to the landlord to go to the rent tribunal to force the tenant to pay the new rent.

“If John at first paid the increased rent, but then decide to challenge it, he should initially write to the landlord. If he does not succeed in obtaining a reduction this way, he can take the landlord to the tribunal.

“It’s hard to say without knowing John’s exact circumstances, but a 20 percent increase sounds like a lot. However, big rent rises can sometimes be permitted when significant improvements are made to an apartment block. This could include renovations of bathrooms and kitchens.

“As for the question of whether John could be evicted for not paying – it's possible, but not easy. A landlord can terminate a contract in certain circumstances, for instance if the tenant withholds the entire rent (and not just the difference between the old and the new rent). In cases where the landlord has unilaterally raised the rent, eviction proceedings for non-payment cannot start until the rental tribunal has made its ruling. Generally, eviction is rare and usually only applies in the case of serious breaches.”

“The situation is slightly different for people living in a sublet apartment (a ‘second-hand contract’ or ‘andrahandsuthyrning') or for people renting an owner-occupied apartment (‘bostadsrätt’) from its owner. The main difference is that people who charge too much for a sublet apartment can be forced to repay tenants any excess rent. This can be applied retroactively for a period of up to two years. This is different from people with ‘first-hand contracts’. For them, a decision by the rent tribunal to lower the rent can only be applied to future payments.

“If John wants advice on his particular circumstances, for instance to obtain guidance on whether the rent is reasonable, he can contact the Swedish Union of Tenants.”

Useful link:

The Swedish Union of Tenants: www.hyresgastforeningen.se

Do you have a question about the practicalities of living in Sweden? Then drop us a line at news@thelocal.se

James Savage (james.savage@thelocal.se)

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